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Homes above EPA safety level double as PFAS zones expand
On Monday, Dec. 18, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality confirmed that 60 total homes in two Kent County townships have thus far tested above 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances called PFAS, or PFCs.
Gallery: PFAS testing zones expand in Algoma Township
By Garret Ellison
ALGOMA TOWNSHIP, MI -- The number of private drinking water wells testing above a federal safety threshold for toxic fluorochemicals dumped years ago by Wolverine World Wide has doubled as testing zones expand into areas not believed to be contaminated by the now-infamous House Street sludge landfill.
On Monday, Dec18, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality confirmed that 60 total homes in two Kent County townships have thus far tested above 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances called PFAS, or PFCs.
Thirty of those homes are in a three-square mile area of southeast Algoma Township, where the DEQ is investigating several contamination sources the agency believes are connected to tannery sludge spread on farm fields and dumped in gravel pits.
The township has largely escaped the attention paid to its municipal neighbor to the south, Plainfield Township, where the other 30 homes above 70-ppt are located along a plume running southeast through Belmont from Wolverine's dump on House Street.
Wolverine PFAS testing zones now 8 contiguous square miles
In Algoma Township, testing and health information is being relayed through quiet neighborhood meetings with state and local officials and Wolverine's contractor, Rose & Westra GZAResidents have been tight-lipped as concern spreads about the affect elevated levels of PFAS contamination will have on property values.
In the Wellington Ridge neighborhood off Elstner Avenue northeast of the Rockford Meijer, one home's well tested at 9,800-ppt for two PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA.
That's about 140 times the 70-ppt non-enforceable health advisory guideline for PFOS and PFOA set last year by the Environmental Protection Agency in lieu of establishing a regulatory limit for the two chemicals under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
It's also on par with the highest PFAS test results found south of the House Street dump, where Wolverine once dumped liquid sludge into unlined pits for years.
Michigan bill proposes nation's lowest PFAS limit in drinking water
West of U.S131 in a testing zone off Jewell AveNE, test results are coming back in the 400- to 600-ppt range, according to residents, local officials and attorneys pursing litigation against Wolverine.
The results have sparked talk of extending Plainfield Township water mains into affected areas of Algoma Township, a project that likely wouldn't break ground until 2019.
Of the roughly 400 Algoma Township homes tested, results are back for 170, the DEQ saysThe state has established four separate testing zones along 10 and 11 Mile roads, called the Wolven, Wolven West, Wolven West-North and Jewell study areas.
Although PFAS from the House Street landfill south of 10 Mile Road is confirmed to have also traveled north, officials say they believe the results in Algoma Township are largely due to other sources.
According to Rose & Westra communication to DEQ, testing in the Wolven West-North area began Dec11 based on "recent analytical results from the Wolven and Jewell Areas and groundwater contour/flow information."
"We're still trying to figure out what the source could be" in those study areas, said DEQ spokesperson Melanie Brown.
Wolverine has thus far agreed to install whole house filtration units to most homes with any DEQ-verified PFOS or PFOA detection level in a DEQ-established zone.
On Dec12, Wolverine said it has "made the decision to extend its whole house filtration program to residents in the Wolven West North Study Area that that have confirmed test results with any detection of PFOA or PFOSThis decision has already been communicated to homeowners in this area."
Why a 'safe' PFAS level in drinking water is so ambiguous
In the Wolven Area, some source area speculation has centered around a pond at the end of Royal Hannah Drive, which is thought to have been a gravel pit which supplied material for construction of U.S131 through the area in the late 1960s.
"We know Wolverine liked to dump in gravel pits and some of the results are pretty high in homes near the pond," said Aaron Phelps of the Varnum Law firm, which is representing about 170 clients around the county, some of whom have already filed lawsuits.
The flood of Wolverine PFAS pollution lawsuits has begun
Longtime residents say the neighborhood was once a farm where Wolverine spread tannery sludge over the years as fertilizer due to the heavy lime content in the wasteOfficials who declined to speak on the record say results in the Wolven area show higher PFAS concentrations in shallower wells, with some uniformity suggestive of chemicals sinking into the ground from field application.
Since testing in Algoma Township began in November, about 10 neighborhood meetings with officials and Wolverine contractors have been held at the township hallInitial meetings were about testing possibilitiesSubsequent meetings have been to deliver test results and discuss steps forward, say local officials.
"They've been coordinated through the neighborhoods themselves," said Kevin Green, Algoma Township supervisor, who described the gatherings as "more personal, intimate meetings where you get to dive into the issues and where residents can ask all their question and get answers as well."
"At some of the big townhalls, it's hard to get the questions answered the residents are really looking for," Green said.
"I get at least a half dozen calls every day from people wanting to know about the closest plume," he said"They are trying to make a good risk analysis for themselves."
While Green said Wolverine and the DEQ have been "very responsive" to residents in Algoma Township, Varnum attorneys say the state has been less responsive to them, regularly taking "weeks and months" to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The DEQ has also automatically extended multiple MLive FOIA requests to the full 15 business days allowable before providing cost estimates for record disclosure.
The DEQ has not disclosed the exact number of homes tested to date in the county or said whether homes in other municipalities have tested over the EPA health advisory levelWolverine only says it has tested more than 1,000 homes.
The DEQ says test results are pending at 19 homes near an old dump at 12 Mile Road next to the White Pine Trail, where Wolverine dumped sludge in the 1960s.
"I think everybody except Wolverine should be totally dissatisfied" with how information is being released by DEQ, said Phelps"I have not seen any results from any of the work being done over at the House Street dump and that started back in September."
"This is a public investigation of a public health issue that affects the public resource," Phelps said"Why in the world the public is not being given more information is beyond my understanding."
'Speak out,' Erin Brockovich tells residents affected by toxic dumping
Wolverine agreed to not pollute Belmont water in 1966
3M to Wolverine: Quit dragging us into your toxic mess
Township approves $400k to install PFAS filter at water plant
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